The source of the beach stones: an interlude

Sometimes my best work is done ‘on the way to work’—in other words, when I don’t think I’m working at all.

Late one afternoon, when the tide was very low, I walked down to the small cove where I had gathered the most colourful stones. My intention was to explore the area and determine some suitable spots to set up my ‘altered stones’.

The light was lovely, long soft shadows falling across the sand and drifting across the water. Absent-mindedly, I began aiming the camera. Excitement grew, as everywhere I turned the viewfinder sand and water ripples called insistently ‘take me!’  For the next hour or so (I lost track of time) I was lost in a magical world of light and shadow and reflections.

Later I created a series of cards, printed on watercolour paper. I couldn’t decide whether I preferred the images in black and white or colour, so produced a series of cards in each.

I’m not often satisfied with my work, but I really liked these images and cards. There was something particularly pleasing about the combination of slightly textured ivory-coloured paper teamed with kraft envelopes. I thought I might even have bought them if I’d seen them in a shop, created by someone else.

For the first time in ages I felt I had a ‘direction.’


A new direction: episode 2

Two eyes are better than one
Yes, but I didn’t realise how much better. I knew that 3D vision would be affected, but I thought it would be easy to correct. Yet even now, over a year later, I still ‘miss’ when I reach for a railing—going down steps for instance; and bumpy ground looks flatter than it is. This makes me feel insecure—especially after I nearly fell out of the car when I reached to pull the door closed and missed! One day I fell at the bottom of some concrete steps when I mistook the final step for ground level. Luckily, I didn’t hurt myself.

My independence was restricted. Apart from the big one of not being able to drive, I didn’t feel confident to go out on my own at all, as crossing roads and getting on public transport was a challenge. 

Still, my handicap was minor in the global scale of things, so I decided to focus on what I could do. 

Take photographs, for example. This wasn’t as comfortable as before, and I had more shots out-of-focus than usual. But I managed.

About this time I felt inspired to follow (feebly) in the steps of great environmental artists like Nils-Udo and Andy Goldsworthy, who tamper with nature in such a way that it almost looks as though nature might have been responsible. 

Along with my friends in The CAN Company (a small group of book artists) I joined in a project to produce a calendar of images that depicted our attempts to ‘fiddle’ gently with nature. 

The CAN Company at work

ImageSamples of my work (the last is a ‘found bird’ on a piece of driftwood)

The completed calendar

Maybe not Nils Udo quality, but we were pretty pleased with ourselves and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

A new direction: episode 1

Life changes when you least expect it
I’ve been hesitating over this post. I don’t want my health issues to become my main focus, and yet they’ve played a dominant role in my life for the past year and a half. It’s also possible that my story will resonate with others. My ‘artwork’, or the lack of it, has been significantly affected. I’ve been hoping to discover an exciting new direction, but so far no luck.

The story
In late November, 2011, my husband and I were out walking. To my consternation, I discovered that I was seeing double in the middle distance. Disconcerting, to say the least.

I was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia. A google search revealed some frightening stories. Trigeminal neuralgia is often known as the ‘suicide disease’ because of the horrific pain many people experience. I didn’t have pain—just a tingling sensation, and numbing of the right side of my face. Often the cause of trigeminal neuralgia is unknown. The doctor and I thought it could have been caused in my case by an abscessed tooth. I won’t go into all the details, but when the double vision worsened I went to the hospital. Tests revealed that I had a small tumour growing around the base of the trigeminal nerve. The tumour was believed to be non-malignant. Even non-malignant tumours can kill you though, so the condition was not ‘minor’.

Removing the tumour would be tricky because of its fairly inaccessible position, and this was unlikely to improve the vision—could even make it worse. So the decision was made to ‘wait and see’ … monitoring the growth with MRI scans at regular intervals. 

That’s what we did for the next 6 months.

Meanwhile, I sought advice from an eye specialist, who claimed there was nothing useful that could be done and the best approach was to wear an eyepatch. Part of me didn’t believe that nothing could be done, but for the time being, an eyepatch seemed to be the only solution.

If you have to wear an eyepatch, you might as well make a statement. Thus I designed for myself a wardrobe of patches, thinking I might even start a fashion trend.


I have to report that they haven’t started a fashion trend (yet), but they certainly are a conversation piece. Some people have suggested they could be marketable, but this is problematic because glasses come in so many shapes and sizes, and there is also the issue of attaching them to the lens. I simply use double-sided tape, which is unnoticeable against the patterns—but this makes changing the patches difficult. (If anyone has some good ideas about this, let me know.)

End episode 1.

Things you can do with beach stones : creative play

For a while I was in danger of becoming a mere beach stone collector. I had to remind myself that the higher purpose was to use the stones as a catalyst for artwork of some kind. Half-formed ideas whizzed around in my brain, but no clear direction emerged. There was nothing for it but to start.

First some simple wrapping:


This was more difficult than I expected. Despite the rough stone surface, the cord was inclined to slip, so I tried gluing it to the rock. Image

This was successful, up to a point, but I had no confidence in how long it would hold. I’d need to do a number of prototypes.

Other experiments followed, combining collage and wrapping.


By this time my mind was wandering … how would I display the finished stones? Mounted in a frame perhaps; placed on another stone (this raised the problem of finding suitable stones with the right sized ‘resting place’). I wished I had a husband who made beautiful boxes out of driftwood. Or that I were one of those splendid women who are skilled with boy tools.

A break was called for, to allow the Universe to provide.

Beach stones

I fell in love with the stones.

Some people looked at me strangely when I mentioned that, but others were intrigued. I’d never seen stones like these before. Well, let’s say I’d never noticed them before.


Look at the colours, and the crazing. If I were a potter, I’d try to replicate the effect. But I’m not, so I had to think of something else. 

I drew on some of them:

ImageThen, to my delight, I found a leaf that repeated so many of the colours:


This was becoming exciting. I searched the web and found other stone-lovers, some doing amazingly beautiful things with stones. Inspired, I began some experiments …

To be continued. 


Exploring the beach


An extract from my journal 17 December 2010

The sandbags make a good resting place. Firm, rounded, but more giving than a rock. They’re here, not for my comfort, but to keep the sea at bay (or the sea in the bay, if you will).

9.10 am on a Friday. A slightly overcast, but nevertheless fine day, with a deliciously cool breeze blowing—a breeze with a gentle-plus rating.

Not much activity here. Nary a soul on the beach as far as the eye can see—it’s easy to be alone on the beach here.

I’ll have to walk back along the road, just to get some real exercise. I’m a beachcomber at heart, you see, and when I walk on the beach I stop every few paces to pick up a treasure. No, let’s rephrase that—I used to look for treasures, but they are few and far between, and I would then feel dissatisfied when I didn’t find anything that qualified. Now (and I just realised this today) I’m searching for ‘pieces with potential’.

Good title for a book, that. Or an art exhibition. Or a song. My mind played with that for a bit and then suggested a better title: ‘pieces of potential’. 

Before I came to the Redcliffe Peninsula I had an idea for a series of small art pieces (I like small things) using arrangements of stones. But like so many good ideas, it slipped from my mind—that is, until I’d finished making my Christmas cards … cards which were a touch too complicated and busy. “Why didn’t you use that idea about simple arrangements of stones?” my inner self wanted to know (I had a great urge to slap her). 

I didn’t have time to start afresh, and besides, it wouldn’t have worked because my collection of beach ephemera included very few small stones. 

So on my walk this morning I was on the lookout for small stones. I began by collecting the red ones, for which Redcliffe it noted. It wasn’t easy at first because there were other small pieces—of wood and plant matter—masquerading as stones. 

But after a while my eyes became attuned to identifying the stones. After another while I tired of the red stones and began a search for the less bountiful glue-grey ones. And after yet another while my inner self got into the act again and suggested that amber would make a nice contrast for the deeper red and blue-grey. 

Being the complicated person that I am, however, I was not quite satisfied with a collection of similar-sized and shaped stones in three colours (it seemed too easy). I began noticing other pieces, those afore-mentioned ‘pieces of potential’—pieces with holes, interestingly textured surfaces, or surprising shapes. Not ‘treasures’ but definitely not bit-players.

The whole lot, I became intensely aware, was packed with potential.

I felt smugly satisfied, collecting the ordinary stuff of everyday life on the shoreline, the stuff that wouldn’t rate a second glance from most people. 

Life’s like that, isn’t it … we mostly overlook the precious ordinary stuff, distracted by the bright shiny objects

Moving on: two years later

It’s more than 2 years, actually. On 11 November it will be 3 years!

With some difficulty, we found a place to rent. Good places were much in demand, and people with steady incomes were obviously given preference … or those prepared to accept sub-standard conditions at too high a price!

We’ve grown quite fond of the house—a 1950s ‘beach house’ typical of this area. (I found the angel in a local thrift store … her name is Daphne.

house with angel 2010At first we were not at all keen on the colour, and considered asking the owner if we could remove the yellow oars. However, after a while, we decided it was sort of funky, and friends discouraged us from getting rid of the oars.  It’s certainly easy for visitors to find.

Inside it’s what I would call ‘quaint’. Freshly painted, polished timber floors, lots of nooks and crannies. We miss our verandah in Brisbane, with its rainforest garden, but there is an outside covered area which is nice enough. Two storage sheds too—not big enough, alas, to contain all our stuff. Every semi-hidden corner of the house has towers of boxes,  unopened since our move. How we ever fitted all this stuff into our previous house I can’t imagine.

The best thing about the house, though, is that it’s a mere 400 metres from the beach.

beachIt’s been a surprise, and delight, for us to find that it’s rare to find more than a few people at the beach, and quite often it’s possible to be completely alone.

This might not be the most exciting part of the world, but it has to be on the ‘most peaceful’ list.